★★☆☆☆ (Attended 7/11/19)
Graduating show from latest batch of ITI students a modern exploration of human relationships, but is marred by actors getting lost in iffy chemistry and a dragged out pace.
Taking inspiration from Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play Reigen (La Ronde), Kaite O’Reilly’s Lie With Me was originally written for a group of graduating theatre students from London’s LAMDA in 2017, and has now been adapted for the latest batch of students from the Intercultural Theatre Institute to perform as their final graduation piece.
Directed by Phillip Zarrilli, Lie With Me takes on a daisychain-like structure, as eight consecutive scenes play out one after the other. Each scene features just two actors, one of which would also be a character in the scene preceding it, allowing all eight scenes and stories to link up in a circle, perhaps a statement on how unexpectedly interconnected life actually is and the closeness of our relationships and degrees of separation.
Lie With Me opens with pulsating, heavy club music, as all eight actors move towards centrestage from the sides. Jerky, lifeless and robotic, all of them dressed identically in plain white t-shirts and jeans, it feels as if this opening scene is passing comment on the routine and rigid rules we’ve allowed ourselves to fall into as members of society.
In the eight chamber scenes that follow, we meet a variety of characters living in the city, each one living with their own issues and circumstances: a man (Earnest Hope Tinambacan) runs into a drunk girl (Regina Toon) in an underpass, who is the sister of a personal assistant (Theresa Wee-Yenko). The PA works for a difficult boss (Wendy Toh), who is in a fraught relationship with an experimental filmmaker (Jin Chen). The filmmaker is making a new video with a struggling actor (Ted Nudgent Fernandez Tac-An Ty), who is living on scraps with his partner (Tysha Khan), a freelance cleaner working for a corporate motivational speaker-type (Nour El Houda Essafi a.k.a. Yiseong), who ends up sleeping with the man in the first scene.
Most of the scenes in Lie With Me feel rather dragged out, moving at a slow pace thanks to the lack of plot within each individual scene, resulting in a case of characters who speak with little purpose and whose conversations meander with little punch. At the same time, there’s a poeticism to Lie With Me’s script that allows us to maintain an interest in almost all these characters’ stories throughout the play. A good attempt has been made to insert overtly Singaporean references into the script, from location references to phenomena that feel natural enough, but vestiges of ‘London-ness’ and other related English phrases still rear their head within the language, making the atmosphere feel neither truly Singaporean or English.
Beyond the actual situations each character finds themselves in, the primary thrust of Lie With Me deals with reflections on each one’s place in the world, worried if they’re messing it up and an overarching, intense loneliness each of them feel, desiring companionship and connection. The characters range from the tragic to the comic, providing a good variety, but most of the wit and words end up lost in the actors’ speech. Beyond some of their strong accents that make the crisp English feel unnatural when they speak, in far too many scene, actors seem to lack the characterisation in their physicality or chemistry with their scene partner to make each scene believable, often coming off as performance rather than embodiment.
Amongst the cast, it is Tysha Khan and Yiseong who stand out as the ones most capable of delivering their characters and clarity of their scenes. In their own shared scene, there is a distinct tension felt between both performers as they wrestle with issues of privilege and presumption. Performer Jin Chen also shows potential amongst the cast, with her attitude and whimsy well-suited for her experimental filmmaker-type character.
As a graduating showcase, Lie With Me is ideal in giving each cast member equal opportunity to shine in each scene, presenting a series of familiar yet unique characters, flawed and lost in the world as they struggle to make meaning of life. We are left feeling somewhat empty by the end of the performance, aware that no man is an island – yet in our world of fleeting encounters, proximity and true connection can be hard, and perhaps even impossible to find.
Lie with Me played from 7th to 9th November 2019 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio.